Read My Not-So-Still Life Online

Authors: Liz Gallagher

My Not-So-Still Life (13 page)

BOOK: My Not-So-Still Life
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“That’s our dinner,” she says to James.

“You mind?” he asks, chewing.

Clearly, she does. She shoots a look to Oscar, who’s sitting up on the bed forming a toga. “Guess not,” she says.

“Great.” James grabs a bowl from the counter, and fills it.

She’s got only one chair and it’s covered with clothes, so James goes to sit on the corner of the bed, where Oscar is still naked under that sheet.

“Vanessa,” Maye says, and moves forward so that I’m forced to step backward onto her little porch.

She shuts the door behind us, and there we are.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’m not scarred by seeing Oscar in your bed.”

“That’s not it,” she says, “though, yeah, it’s not cool that you guys just showed up. The timing could’ve been worse.”

I can imagine.

“Sorry.” It’s strange to think about. Very new, for me. None of my other friends even have sex, let alone in their own little apartment. While it’s still semi-light outside.

“Look, Vanessa,” she says. “Do you know what you’re doing with James?”

“I’m doing the calendar, same as you.” It comes out sounding venomous. Why do I feel the need to defend this? “But it sounds like you already knew that.”

“I told him not to ask you,” she says. “I think it’ll look silly, a sixteen-year-old girl … it’s not right for you. James should know. He’s too old for you, Vanessa, and you’re not old enough for this calendar.” I feel ten times the annoyance I felt toward the Dazzle lady.

“I can handle it.” I can, and I will.

“What’s your deal with wanting to be older?” she asks. Just like Nick did. And Mom. What is with everyone not believing in me? Who says I can’t hang out with James, or date him? “You’re adorable, and you have so much in front of you. So much time for guys like James. Don’t do anything with him. I’m telling you, it’s not right.”

“You have no idea what I’m capable of.” I’m ready for anything. I’m lightning, shining out.

“That’s what worries me. Bad things can happen,
Vanessa. A guy like James. He’s fun. He’s good at heart, but he has no business with you.”

“Actually,” I say, “I think it’s pretty clear that he does.”

He opens the door then and pushes past Maye, which forces her back into her place, the porch being so small. He holds up a plastic grocery bag loaded with her accessories. “Ready to do this?”

“Totally,” I say.

I turn my back on Maye, and lead James down the steps.

Helmets on, we zoom back over the Fremont Bridge, through the arty strip, past the restaurants and coffee shops into Ballard, where the air is salty, and down the alley to the Vespa shop and James’s place. I keep my arms tightly around his waist the whole ride, and even rest my cheek on his back. I’m going to keep taking steps toward him until we mesh completely. I will not leave quietly tonight.

When we get there, he drives into the garage and parks the monster scooter next to one that’s completely taken apart. It looks like a surgery patient on the operating table. He helps me off with my helmet, and I feel like he’s revealing the real me.

I’m still wearing my bag, which holds the bikini and Maye’s supplies.

“I’m gonna set up the camera and everything,” he says. “Why don’t you go up and change, paint your nails, do your makeup, whatever, and meet me back down here?”

“We’re shooting in the garage?”

“Sure, Vespas are the perfect accessory.”

I love this idea. “Awesome,” I say.

He tosses me his keys so that I can go upstairs. I have to go back outside first, to his fire-escape stairs. In the garage, there’s a scent of metal and oil, and outside, there’s the sea-water smell.

I go up the stairs and use James’s key. It’s easy to imagine this being my life: my own key to this apartment, which I would spruce up—so many white walls just begging for me! James would work downstairs while I did my thing upstairs, and then we’d meet at night.

He definitely hasn’t cleaned since I was last here. I pull out the nail polish, lipstick, head scarf, and bikini. I put on the bikini first, feeling so charged and zingy because, for a moment, I am naked in James’s apartment, the same way Oscar is naked in Maye’s.

The suit bottom fits fine, but I don’t quite fill out the top. I bend over to readjust the girls, and manage to make it less obvious. If I keep my back arched so that my chest stays up, I should be fine.

Next, I go into the bathroom to tie the scarf. The sink is full of tiny hairs, which must be from shaving. A cardboard box next to the sink serves as a trash can, and a CD
rack on the floor is the medicine cabinet. I notice all the boy things, which, actually, aren’t many—shaving cream and razors, deodorant, an extra bar of grocery-store-brand soap—and among them, one tube of pink deodorant.
An old girlfriend’s
.

I want that to be mine. I want to be the one keeping my getting-ready-for-the-day supplies in his bathroom.

I tie the scarf on like a headband, which looks so adorable that I might start wearing it regularly. Then I grab toilet paper to put under my toes and go back to the main room. I feel like someone should make a portrait of me at this moment, sitting on James’s floor in the teeny-weeny polka-dot bikini, my hair all retro, painting my nails. Thank the Goddess I shaved my legs this morning.

While I wait for my toes to dry, I consider everything that’s going on. I’m breaking free. I’m following what I want to do, and it means I get a guy like James to notice me, which is so much better than a guy like Mike Corrigan. Than any high school boy. Than even Jewel.

I knew that working at Palette would change things. It’s happening.

Once my nails are dry, I gather up my clothes and stuff them into my messenger bag, sling the bag on, zip up my boots, and go back downstairs. I’m cold in the bikini, but not shivering.

*   *   *

James chuckles as I pull a face. I’m sitting atop someone’s green Vespa in front of his tool wall.

We’ve been shooting for about twenty minutes, and I’m having the time of my life. It’s like the ID session, but this time I really get to ham it up, channeling Maye and the photo of my grandmother sitting on Grampie’s Chevy, and every other strong woman I can think of.

I can’t help but think James is having a blast too. He laughs as he clicks away.

“I’m so glad you agreed to do this, Vanessa,” he says, holding the camera at his side for a minute.

When he says my name, I understand what people mean about melting around someone they love. “Me too.”

He picks up the camera again and gets what must be the most natural shots of the session, me relishing the moment. I’m sure the look on my face is totally serene.

I’ve been mostly sitting up straight on the Vespa’s seat, so I decide to lean over and grab the handlebars, to make it look like I’m driving. I try to remember how the pinup girls shaped their bodies.

As I bend, the bikini top gapes a little. I look up at James, and in a split second before he looks away, I know that he’s looking at my body, and I know that he likes what he sees.

So I don’t fix the top.

James takes a few more photos, then holds the camera in front of himself, fiddling with the settings.

I seize this moment. I reach around to the bikini top’s closure, and undo it.

James looks up. He watches. He’s absolutely still, and I know this is going to happen.

He puts the camera down on the workbench, next to the helmets and his jacket, my boots on the floor.

He’s so close to me now. And walking closer.

I pull the top completely off, let it fall to the greasy floor. I stand up, take a step toward James, and we’re together. We’re kissing.

It was that easy.

Nothing has ever felt this good—not even kissing Jewel.

His hands are on my bare back, and I feel myself pressed into his chest. He takes off his top.

Skin against skin. Softer than I’d ever imagined.

We are finally melting together.

“Let’s go upstairs,” I mumble into his hair.

He takes my hand, grabs his jacket from the bench, and hands it to me.

I put it on.

We kiss again. We can walk only three steps before we
need
to keep kissing.

Going up the stairs, we stop twice.

Time stands still, and we’re in his place, and we’re still kissing like crazy, and I take the jacket off. He kicks off his Chucks and pulls off his jeans, so we’re both basically in
underwear. His is the sexy kind that’s like tight boxers. The bulge is definitely there.

Exactly how do we get these last pieces of clothing off? And how do I bring up the condom issue?

We keep kissing, and he presses me up against the sink, and it’s cold on my skin, and he’s heavy up against me, and I feel him on my leg, right there, and his arms are strong on either side of me, and I don’t want it to, but it feels like he’s trapping me. I’m letting him. I asked him to. I want this.

Maye’s words, my mom’s, and Nick’s, echo.
Don’t grow up too fast
, they all said, and maybe this is what they meant, but how can something that felt so amazing one second ago cross this line to feeling locked up?

No. This is fine. I started this. We’ll stop whenever I say so.

“I’ll get something,” he says, and moves to walk to the bathroom for what I hope is a condom. When he steps away, it leaves me chilled. Goose bumps.

I take the chance to get on the mattress, under the covers. As I’m wiggling around trying to find the right way of lying there, my leg swipes something cold. At first, the image of an eel pops to mind.

Just as he’s coming out of the bathroom with his hand cupped—it must be a condom inside, yes—I reach down and feel a necklace.

I pull it out from under the covers, and see that it has a dainty jeweled ballet slipper hanging from it.

Wait.

He’s walking toward me, but I feel myself pulling the sheet around me, shoving the necklace back down.

I can’t go through with this knowing there’s another girl’s necklace in the bed—and that it’s probably her deodorant in the bathroom. Not as much of an ex-girlfriend as I thought, maybe.

“James.” I will my voice not to crack. “I have to go.”

He sits at the edge of the bed. “Relax. Everything’s okay. We can slow down,” he says. “I thought we’d finish up here and then go use your ID, but if you need more time, we can stay in all night.”

I just look at him. I want to want that. But I’m not sure anymore.

I reach down for the necklace, hold it up.

“She’s not someone I’m serious about,” he says. “Just a girl I know.”

“Oh.” I nod. So, am I just a girl too? I can’t ask, because I don’t want to know the answer.

“You’re not cool with this, are you?”

“Not tonight,” I say. I flash to a scene where I tell Maye about this, and she’s proud that I didn’t ignore the necklace. She thinks I did the right thing. Holly would tell me to get out of here, and quick. Nick? Same thing.

I pull my clothes back up around me while he drags on his jeans. “Are you sure?” he asks.

I nod and go to the door. “See ya,” I mumble. I know
he’ll go out by himself. Or meet up with the necklace girl. Or someone else.

I walk home, trying not to think. I don’t know what to think anymore.

Mom and Grampie are nowhere to be seen when I get home. I go straight to bed, stopping only to change out of my clothes—the bikini underneath—and into my splattered tank dress.

The last images in my mind before I fall asleep are of myself on that Vespa, barely dressed. Trying to look sexy.

What was I thinking? Mom and Grampie could come across the calendar. Anyone could. It’s not art. Not at all. It’s a private moment that probably never should’ve happened.

I have to get out of the calendar.

Fifteen

I’m scheduled to work on Saturday
, but I’m still asleep when Nick calls. I hadn’t looked at my phone last night, but now I see that he called twice. I click to him. “What’s up?”

“Um, hello? Badass?” Oh. “You graffitied the school.” At least he’s talking to me. It’s been almost a week since our fight.

“Just that one wall.”

“Uh-huh. And the blacktop at the park—I guess you did that, too? This is your big project? This is what you came up with?”

When he puts it like that, I realize I barely even
thought about the show. I wanted to do my best project ever. Then I got distracted. “I don’t care about some dumb school art show,” I say. “It just felt good to do. It felt … real.”

“It’s really getting you in trouble, that’s for sure.”

“I mean, it’s just one wall. Is Smith mad?”

“He seemed okay, actually. But I do know the office called your house and left a message last night.”

As if on cue, Mom opens my door. She does not look cheery.

“Gotta go. I’ll call you back.” I click the phone off. “Hi, Mom.”

“That’s it? ‘Hi, Mom’? Nessie, what were you thinking?”

“It’s art, Mom. It’s what I was feeling.” Even as I say that, it doesn’t sound quite right.

“It’s multicolored lightning bolts on the wall of the school.”

“Right. My art show entry.”

“And they said that your so-called art matched some graffiti at the park over by the school? Was that yours, too?”

I can’t defend the park as easily. I don’t know how to explain that it felt like energy bursting out of me. That I didn’t know where else to put that energy.

So I just look her in the eye and nod, wishing she could read my mind. For the first time, I think maybe I need help figuring out where my energy should go.

“You’re going over there today to paint over that wall.
And the school is punishing you. You’re not allowed to go to Spring Semi.”

I push out a laugh. “As if I want to go to Spring Semi. That’s fine.”

“And I’m punishing you too.”

I wait for it.

“You’ve had your last shift at Palette. And you’ll spend spring break at home.”

I start to shake inside. She can’t take that away. Oscar. Maye. James. “But—”

“Working there was a privilege.”

“A privilege where I get paid!”

“Most of your check will be going to the Parks Department, to cover the cost of the new blacktop they need to put down to fix your mess on the basketball court. You know the job was never about getting paid. You just wanted to be around those artist people.”

BOOK: My Not-So-Still Life
6.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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